It’s now a reality.
Late Thursday night, the news broke that the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara could be out four-to-six weeks with a knee injury. Earlier in the evening, the Bruins saw a potentially ugly glimpse into what the future of their blue line could look like.
After playing only 4:13 in the first, Chara left the game with what was then-deemed an undisclosed injury. That meant a five-man, remaining defensive rotation of Dennis Seidenberg, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug, and Adam McQuaid to pick up Chara’s slack. In the Bruins captain’s absence, the New York Islanders managed 39 shot attempts, with 25 landing on net, and two getting past Niklas Svedberg for goals. This was just enough for the Islanders to beat the Bruins, 3-1.
After the game, Bruins coach Claude Julien informed the media that there would be no update on Chara’s condition. While no news is good news, the lack of any type of an update could be unnerving to a team without their best defensive player in the lineup.
“When you lose your captain and one of your better defensemen, there’s no doubt it’s going to have an effect on your team,” said Julien. “Again, we showed in the third that we’re able to handle it, so that’s my perspective on it. You’re gonna lose guys during the season, those things happen. How you react to it and how you respond is what’s important.”
That’s it right there; how the Bruins react to one of the most important injuries that they’ve faced in years is important. With a 4-5 record and a rather unimpressive start to the season, this could very well be a worst case scenario for the Bruins at this point.
So, what happens without Zdeno Chara?
For one, the Bruins are now looking at a top pair anchored by either Seidenberg or Hamilton. While both defensemen are having an erratic start to the season, it should be Seidenberg that gets the nod. The bulk of Seidenberg’s work on Thursday came in the defensive zone, with 75% of his starts coming in his own end. With that said, Seidenberg was still able to finish the game with an even-strength Corsi of 10 and CF% of 61%, second highest amongst defensemen and sixth-best on the Bruins. On the season, Seidenberg has started in the offensive zone only 25.2% of the time–pretty telling.
“It’s always tough when a guy like that goes down,” said Seidenberg after the game, prior to the reports of Chara’s injury came out. “We have to embrace the opportunity and play better and make up for that, if possible.
“He’s obviously not just big in stature, but he’s a leader out there. He takes up a lot of room, he’s dominant in the defensive zone and he’s the biggest part of this team. Again, we have to embrace this opportunity. Whatever happens, happens. We just have to play better as a whole.”
Theoretically, Seidenberg’s likely partner on defense would be Hamilton, who has had some lapses in play thus far. One miscue in front of the net on Thursday night led to the Islanders’ first goal. Hamilton had been playing on a pair with Chara. But Seidenberg and Hamilton probably shouldn’t be the top pair since after them, there’s not much else. (This, of course, is where the Bruins miss Johnny Boychuk.)
Putting Seidenberg and Hamilton together is similar to the old Chara and Seidenberg super-stack pairing during past postseasons. The Bruins would put their two best defensemen together as a shutdown pair and hope for the best. Granted, Boston had the depth to do this in the past, but this is different. If Julien does decide to put Seidenberg and Hamilton together, the rest of the defensive pairings look bleak. Instead, Seidenberg should be on the top pair alongside Krug.
There’s no doubting that Krug has been a sheltered defensemen however, he’s been playing tougher minutes this season and has been averaging 20:06 TOI per game. Krug has played well the last few games paired with Seidenberg and has a 67.4% CorsiFor when on the ice together this season. For a comparison, Hamilton has a 41.5% with Seidenberg. Krug can provide the top pair with a bit of an offensive flair while still having more of a defensive-defenseman partner in Seidenberg, who’d be an upgrade from McQuaid and Kevan Miller.
As for the rest of the defense, who knows. Hamilton and Bartkowski could be a formidable second-pair, even though they’ve been on the ice together for 36 seconds this season. Both defensemen tend to rely on their partners to play the heavier minutes but this could be a learning opportunity for Hamilton and a chance for him to develop. It’s also because a bottom pairing of Bartkowski and whoever the Bruins decide to call-up might be a disaster.
The bottom pair seems like a good place to replicate the success that McQuaid and Krug had in the past. The Bruins can do that by calling up David Warsofsky from Providence, who plays a similar game to Krug’s. Warsofsky had a goal in four games with the Bruins last season and is a smaller-stature, puck-moving defenseman who can lead the breakout.
The Bruins could also make a trade, shipping away one of their many prospects clogging the system in return for a cheaper, rental defenseman that will unlikely be in Boston for a short period of time. For now though, the Bruins should bring up a defenseman or two from Providence, re-trigger the defensive pairings, and hope that Chara isn’t out for longer than four to six weeks.
Because if he is, expect the Bruins’ adversity to be taken to a whole new level.
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Mike Miccoli covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers and has been a credentialed member of the media for all Bruins’ home games for the past five years. As a former player, coach and official, Miccoli has been around the game of hockey since the age of three. Along with his work on THW, Miccoli has also been published in the New England Hockey Journal, Improper Bostonian magazine and on BostInno.